Arborists work with trees. They plant, care for, prune, and even remove trees. They protect property from tree damage. Trees can cause serious problems, but can also be of great benefit. In a private garden, it is inevitable they periodically need the attention of an expert.
Scope of Work
Arborists in the private sector are involved in maintaining tree health, pruning and tree removal in home gardens and on private land. They may also be involved in revegetation projects and giving advice on choice of trees on private land such as privately owned sports clubs and business premises. All arborists need to have extensive knowledge of trees and use of equipment. Some may offer additional services such as stump grinding and onsite chipping of pruned tree parts or removing cut trees.
Tree surgeons are just one type of arborist. They prune or otherwise treat trees, accessing high branches by climbing or using ladders or travel towers. This is highly skilled and dangerous work. Other arborists may work on the ground in support of tree surgeons; as experts providing advice, perhaps conducting assessments, pruning tree roots, or undertaking other tasks as diverse as tree felling, planting and grafting.
Related businesses in the private tree surgery industry include equipment supplies and tree nurseries.
What You Need to Learn
Tree science - tree biology, physiology, anatomy, ecology, nutrition
Soils - soil structure, chemistry, management techniques e.g. improving soils, aeration, etc.
Soil drainage - surface, subsurface, flood mitigation
Irrigation - equipment selection, installation, use
Taxonomy - tree species and cultivars, identification & cultural characteristics of many different varieties, and weed tree species
Health management - tree pests, diseases and environmental disorders
Tools and equipment - selection of the right tool for the job, operation & correct use (e.g. chainsaws, chippers), maintenance, repair of tools
Cultural management techniques – tree pruning, watering frequency and duration, how to renovate trees
Starting a Career
There are many points of entry into this line of work. Some start with no training or experience, as little more than a labourer, assisting a tree surgery contractor, learning on the job and progressing as they learn. This path can be slow though, and there may be gaps in knowledge that can lead to mistakes, damaging trees and restricting career progress.
Some formal learning in at least key areas listed above will help a career move faster and minimise the risk of career or business mistakes.
Other ways to get a start include:
Volunteering with community projects (e.g. conservation tree planting, botanic gardens friends groups)
Joining a club, association or society (anything from a garden club to rock climbing group may be relevant)
Starting a small business dealing with trees (e.g. propagating trees art home and selling through markets)
Studying or working in anything related to arboriculture (e.g. gardening, mechanics, environmental management)
Learning properly takes time. Initial training lays a foundation to build further learning on and gives context to what you learn later through study or experience. Broader, deeper initial training is always better; but not necessarily essential for a start, as long as you continue learning after you start. It is very important that your initial training is from instructors who have a strong understanding of the science and techniques that underpin tree management. If you are learning through a formal course; it should be delivered in a way that is not rushed, taking time to revisit, reinforce and embed the fundamentals of tree management into your long-term memory. People who take shortcuts to getting started can succeed; but people who lay a stronger foundation are likely to be more capable, and that generally tends to lead to higher earnings and more long term career success.
Common ways to get started are:
Getting a job with someone else (e.g. a tree surgeon, or tree nursery)
Working in landscaping or gardening and doing some tree maintenance
Progressing a Career
You will learn through experience as you work in the industry. Every problem or challenge you confront can be a new learning experience. Challenges sometimes reveal deficiencies in your knowledge. If that happens, you may see something you need to learn, by doing research or studying a course. A person who responds positively to such challenges, and sees them as opportunities for career advancement, will progress.
If there are aspects of the list under "What You Need to Learn" which are deficient, then ongoing study is advised to fill those gaps.
Networking within your industry is critical to not only learning more; but also getting new opportunities. Everyone working in tree care should become active in a professional association specialising in trees or horticulture. Professional development is also important. Science, products, equipment and techniques are constantly changing and improving in tree surgery as well as every other industry. If you are disconnected from industry change, you will not remain competitive with others who are up to date. This is another reason you should remain involved with a professional or trade organisation.
Diversifying your learning and experience is a natural, and often very successful, way of helping your career to progress. This could involve doing additional study in order to broaden the services you can offer; or deepen the quality of service you offer. It may also allow you to cross over into other related career paths; perhaps moving from private tree care into public tree management, or even into broader parks or gardens management.
The many sectors of horticulture can go through cycles of high and low demand for experts. The tree surgeon with a broader range of knowledge and skills may be able to cross over from one sector to another taking advantage of these cycles. They may for example, work in private gardens when there is a high demand and good remuneration offered in the private gardens sector; and move from that into private business tree care when demand and opportunity in that area of work is stronger. Enlightened arborists may begin in a narrow sector such as private tree care, but through study and experience, fashion a career path over decades that winds across many different sectors of horticulture.
Successful arborists who are engaged with industry do get noticed by horticultural enterprises and are likely to find new opportunities coming their way as their career develops. The need to learn new things may arise periodically (e.g. management skills; other horticultural specialisations).